My Shelter Pet

I will never forget the day I met Sophie. I was having a really shitty day at work. By the time I took my lunch I wasn’t hungry anymore. It was the kind of day where I just couldn’t be around people any longer. When I left the office, I drove up the road in the opposite direction of my usual trajectory. I drove away from the cafes and restaurants and toward a more rural part of Sacramento County. I drove along a road bordered by telephone poles and dotted with manufacturing warehouses, in between unkempt fields of dry grass and awkwardly placed parking lots. I drove until I found a parking lot that I could turn into and turn around.

I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter. There was a woman in her truck in the parking spot next to mine and she was crying into her hands. I got out of my car. I thought about knocking on the window and offering her a tissue but, as I approached her car, she looked up at me and she shook her head slightly. It was the kind of crying that demanded solitude. I could tell that she had come to her vehicle to be alone. I felt so intrusive about pulling into the spot next to hers and getting out of the car that I decided to walk around.

I had never been to the Sacramento County Animal Shelter before. It looked like a prison. There were chain-link fences surrounding the building and I could hear various-sized dogs barking from the inside. I think I walked in the front door only because there was no other place to go.

There was a long line of people in the lobby and there were large binders with volumes of missing animals on a table in the back. I started thumbing through the binders. They were excruciating to go through. One of the posters read, “Family dog of five years-missing. Our children are heartbroken.” There was another flyer about a cat that needed medication to survive. Each poster was terrible and sad in its own right.

The staff at the shelter was doing all they could do to help the line move along. It was a difficult sight. There were people looking for lost pets. There was a man surrendering a pit bull mix, choking back tears as he met with an animal control officer. There were kids running around the lobby and screaming. There were a few of us just standing around, meandering. At one point, a young, boisterous black man boomed over the crowd announcing, “If you are here to look at the adoptable animals, the puppies and cats are through this door and the larger breed dogs are down the hall.”

I walked through the door.

The puppies were cute. All the dogs were cute. There were puppies and there were smaller breed dogs as well. Some of them were quite older. They barked and yapped and tried to get my attention. There were fluffy dogs and wire-haired terriers. There were white ones and black ones. There were mopey dogs and dogs that were excited. Some came right up to the cage fence next to the hall and stuck their noses through the fencing, almost as though they were begging to get out. Mostly, there were a lot of Chihuahuas, some of which were standing in the far corner of the shelter cages, just shaking and looking at the wall.

The kennels and bedding looked clean but the kennels smelled like shit and bleach. It was an outstanding smell, something that could hardly be washed away. There was a clear smell that indicated an attempt at cleaning and it made the overall smell choking and terrible.

I moved past the small dogs and into the cat kennels. As a cat owner I was surprised that the stench was quite a bit more tolerable. I had expected the tin-like smell of cat pee. Instead it smelled like medicine and plastic. It was almost minty, like someone had been burning a scented Christmas candle. There were cats in cages four-cages high and maybe nine-cages across. Every cage was full. There was every kind of cat that a person could imagine. There was even one of those hairless cats, wide-eyed with giant ears, all wrapped up in shelter towels and shivering.

At the end of the hall there were two little girls meeting with an “adoption specialist.” There was a dad standing along the wall, watching with a satisfying grin at their joy. Both of the little girls had fluffy kittens in their arms. The adoption specialist kept asking the dad, “Are you sure?” He kept nodding.

The cat section had its own little folding table with two mid-forties female volunteers. Both women were likely lesbians. They had short hair and wore printed vacation tee-shirts with cargo pants and thick sandals. They had a lot of clipboards in front of them at the table and several small stacks of paperwork. One volunteer shuffled paperwork as the other one tried to manage the kitten girls.

I continued to browse the “cats available for adoption.” It was a mostly quiet endeavor, except for one black-and-white, short-haired tabby who kept crying and putting his paws through the bars. I put my hand out and let him grab one of my fingers and mew. “It’s okay,” I said. “You are very cute. Your time here will be short.” He looked at me hopefully. I wasn’t in the market.

I turned the corner to the “big dogs” hall. There was an isolated section of cat cages on my left that I didn’t pay much attention to. I could hear the big dogs even before I went through the doors.

The big dogs were a difficult sight. Many were losing hair and pacing. Some were howling at the ceiling. There were a lot of Shepherds and Pit bulls. There was a Black Labrador that had just been admitted on a call. I could tell that he was lost and missing his family terribly. There was a lot of Animal Control Officer activity in the large dog room and I just wasn’t comfortable. I headed back to the cat room.

As I walked into the hall, I noticed the section of cages that had been roped off. There were about forty cages but only three of the cages had cats in them. The rope had been set aside and there was a young female animal attendant looking at empty cages in the corner. The attendant didn’t notice me. I looked more closely at the quarantined kitties.

That’s when I saw Sophie.

She was sleeping. She didn’t see me. Not at first. But I saw her. She was tucked all the way in the back of her cage. She looked like a chocolate-faced, fluffy, milk-colored rug. And then she opened her eyes.

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I believe in love at first sight, but in very limited circumstances.

I don’t think that love-at-first-sight can completely exist between humans. For humans, love is a verb. It is a commitment that takes action and time. It may start with a feeling or an attraction, but love cannot be sustained without constant attention.

This is not true with humans and their animal companions. I have heard more love-at-first-sight stories between humans and their pets than from any other source. Sometimes you just know.

For Sophie and I, it was undoubtedly love at first sight.  When her blue eyes met mine, there was no turning back.

I met Sophie ten years ago. She was a little older than a kitten but was still very small. I looked up at the attendant wistfully and said, “I’d like to adopt this cat.”

She replied, “You can’t be in this section. These cats aren’t up for adoption.”

I planted my feet equally apart. I said firmly to the attendant, “I need to adopt this cat.”

The attendant explained that my cat had been left on the porch of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter in the middle of the night in a shoebox with the lid taped shut. Because she had been surrendered anonymously, the shelter had to keep her for three days in case someone came to claim her. After three days, the cat could be adopted.

The attendant could tell that I was horrified. I can’t remember if I was more horrified that my cat had been left in a shoe box on a porch or that she might be taken home by another family. The attendant leaned to me and whispered, “She was probably dropped off by a breeder. She looks like a pure bred Himalayan but she is pretty runty and she has something wrong with one of her eyes.”

I came back that afternoon and stayed with Sophie until the shelter closed for the night. I came back the next two lunch hours and afternoons. I ignored the ropes in the roped-off area and walked directly to the cage. I petted Sophie with two fingers through the bars. The animal officers and volunteers could tell that there was nothing that they could say to me that would convince me to leave so they just pretended that I was another volunteer.

The volunteers told me that adoption was first-come-first-served so I got up at 4am on the third day and drove to the shelter to wait outside until it opened. I was the first person there.

By the time the shelter opened, there were about 20 people lined up outside. I walked quickly to my cat. I walked directly to the cage that she had been in for the past three days. She wasn’t there. I turned around and searched the other cages. I panicked.

When I found her there was a family looking at her. A little girl was poking her fingers through the cage as a little boy squealed loudly, “I don’t want a stupid cat.” I grabbed the clipboard on her cage and took it to the two women the in thick-strapped sandals at the folding table. I handed them the clipboard and said, “This is my cat. I’m ready to adopt her.” They smiled. They had seen me those past few days.

I filled out several pieces of paperwork. I answered questions about indoor/outdoor cats. I vowed never to declaw a cat. (Of course.) They asked about children and dogs. (None.) At the end of the survey, I handed over my answers. I stood nervously. I shifted my weight to each foot as I watched them judge me. The two women reviewed my questionnaire and smiled. They looked up at me.

“She is already fixed. You can take her home today.” One of the women said.

“Now?” I asked.

“Now.”

They put Sophie in a cardboard carrier and I walked past the small dogs out to the shelter lobby to stand in line. There were already several people in line and the lobby wasn’t much different from my first impression. There were people thumbing through the binders. There were kids running around. There were people with dogs on leashes waiting in line. It was loud and smelly.

I didn’t care. I had my cat.

I stood in line waiting to pay the adoption fee for my cat when I noticed the woman in front of me. She had a beagle on a leash sitting next to her sitting and wagging its tail across the linoleum and looking guilty. She intermittently smiled at the beagle and occasionally threw the beagle a dirty look. I remembered her long brown hair. I mostly remembered her eyes. It was the woman from the truck in the parking lot.

“Is this your dog?” I asked gleefully.

She looked at me and remembered me.

“Yes. This is the asshole who ran away from the dog park.” She smiled in a way that kept her from crying. “This is my damn dog.” She laughed. I laughed too.

She asked, “What’s in the box?”

“My new cat.” I said. She winked at me.

When it was my turn, I put my cardboard box on the counter and handed over my paperwork. That day, I paid $75 to adopt my best friend.

The Lion, The Bitch, and the Whole World

I have three cats at home.  They are not big cats.  They are house cats.  Each cat has its own personality and I live for each of them every single day.  They bring me joy and comfort.  I tell them about my day and they meow at me.  They are my very best friends.  (I am a lesbian with no children so this is not an understatement.)

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I care about animals and I’m sad that Cecil the Lion was murdered. I have seen the outpouring and I have been heartened by the outcry. I’m glad that the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion had to shut down his practice and go into hiding.  The killing of animals for sport is senseless and terrible. People should be upset and outraged.  Jimmy Kimmel’s heart-felt commentary felt right and accurate.

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But then I saw the backlash. I saw the backlash from many of my black friends and I was surprised by it. In a way, I felt hurt. I saw people or color posting poignant and painful admonishments about how some folks get upset about the killing of an animal but don’t seem to notice or speak up about the killing of black people in this country and worldwide.

A good friend of mine reposted the following commentary from the Facebook page “Son of Baldwin”.  (For people who care about issues of race and equality in this country, please, read this blog in its entirety and don’t skim.)

 

With zero edits or interjections, from Son of Baldwin:

  1. A white man slaughters a Lion in Zimbabwe. The man, Walter Palmer, a dentist, of course, denies his part in it. Using his Whiteness to the fullest of its capabilities, Palmer claims that the black Zimbabweans he paid off tricked him and he had no idea what he was doing, that the slow and painful death he caused the Lion is black people’s fault not his. (http://www.cnn.com/…/zimbabwe-cecil-the-Lion-kil…/index.html)

White people around the world are absolutely outraged over the Lion’s inhumane slaughter. They want Palmer convicted. They haven’t said anything yet about Palmer’s Whiteness evocation, however.

  1. Black cisgender women are turning up dead in prisons (http://thinkprogress.org/…/fourth-black-woman-found-dead-j…/). Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Raynetta Turner; five black women that we know of. (This number expands if we include non-black women.) In these cases, the outrage from most white people is muted, replaced by averted gazes, exasperated sighs, lips curled with skepticism. They want the cops protected. They start online campaigns to raise money for the cops’ defense.

By reflex, they seek reasons to justify the murders and strip black people of our humanity. They mock both our pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances they need to confirm that their plans are working.

They attempt make our murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of black lives seem like our own fault.

  1. Black transgender women are being slaughtered in the streets (http://janetmock.com/…/02/16/six-trans-women-killed-this-y…/). Islan Nettles, India Clarke, London Chanel, Penny Proud, Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard–to only scratch the surface. (This number multiplies if we expand it to include non-black women.) In these cases, most white people and most black people find common ground. We say they “tricked” people and we sympathize/empathize with the murderers.

Collectively, we recite the anthem of viciousness reserved for those who we believe have no discernible humanity; or, at least, no humanity that our own inhumanity allows us to recognize:

“That’s what they get!”

By reflex, we seek reasons to justify the murders and strip transgender people of their humanity. We mock both their pain and cries for justice, regarding both as the assurances we need to confirm that our plans are working.

We attempt make their murders a public service rather than crimes against humanity. This is genocide by omission; that is to say omitted from the public record through the use of a PR strategy that every American institution is in on–and many white and black Americans condone and support, either by their action or inaction–to make the destruction of transgender lives seem like their own fault.

  1. The American Lesson: White people > Wild animals > Black cisgender people > Black transgender people.

There is enough implication to go around.

 

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I was hurt because I’m one of the people who speak up. I’m not always great at speaking up. I don’t always know the right thing to say. But I frequently speak up. I try. The commentary drawing conclusions about Cecil the Lion and #blacklivesmatter seemed really unfair. I’m an activist and I hold my activism close. I felt hurt that I was being accused of somehow being insensitive about black lives because I’m a white person who cares about animals and a specific lion.

I’m also a queer person and I care about transgender lives.  I care about all the issues listed in the commentary above and I cared about those issues before the mainstream media found a poster child to make it cool and host a reality show about it.

I give a shit.  I have always given a shit.  I have been very loud about giving a shit.  I have never been ashamed about the fact that I give a shit. You can call me a bitch but I still give a shit.  I give a shit about the things worth giving a shit for.

This whole lion thing, and the subsequent intricacies, really caught me by surprise. Lions, animals, and the injustice perpetrated against endangered animals should be a totally non-controversial, legitimate thing to fight for.  Caring about Cecil and publically voicing my opinion should be a social-justice no-brainer. Right?

No.  Not so much.

I initially felt really defensive.  I was mad.  I am a shit-giving activist and I try to consider everyone.  All the time.  Always.

But then I realized something.

Most white people, or folks of privilege, do not understand that worrying about the death of a lion is a privilege. Worrying about something other than yourself is a privilege.  Room to worry about a dentist and the animal he killed is room to worry. Room to worry is a privilege. Room to worry is a privilege that people of color do not have.

People of color have their worry filled up. Filled to the brim. With their families, children, neighbors, themselves. They worry about being pulled over. They worry about being shot at by police officers. People of color worry about being pulled from their vehicles.  They worry about dying in jail. They worry about being murdered by those who are sworn to protect the law. They worry about the law.  They worry about the laws of this land. They worry about history and gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. They worry every second of every moment. They worry deeply when their children are out of their sight, especially if said child is a young man of color. They worry in a very real way and for several very real reasons.

For white people, and other people of privilege, being an activist for Cecil the Lion, or for people of color, or for LGBTIQ people, or for others who are disenfranchised, seems like the right thing to do. White folks have the time and the privilege to decide when it’s time to worry. We have the privilege to pick our battles. We can decide about Cecil the Lion.  We can decide on our issues and which issues need address.

For white people, it seems like the issues we pick are separate and deliberate.  It seems that our issues are mutually exclusive. They’re just issues.  When white people become activists, we decide what matters; we pick our battles.  We decide on Cecil the Lion. Or we decide on Sandra Bland.  Or we decide on Michael Brown.  Or we decide on Green Peace.  Or we decide on Relay for Life.  We decide to feed the hungry or to build a garden or to donate to National Public Radio.  We decide where to give our time and money.

For white people, and people of privilege, we can separate our issues and decide how to spend our time and our “activist moments.”

People of color do not have the same luxury.

Valentines Day 2015

My spouse and I kinda suck at Valentine’s Day. I honestly can’t remember what we did last year. This year, our original plan was to have dinner at a swanky private super club with a nationally-renown chef. We were going to go out and do something fun and celebratory. We were late getting tickets and the event sold out. Our second plan was to go see the Met Opera piped into our local movie theater. When we got up this morning, we decided to pack a few snacks, skip the opera, and go take a hike.

It has been delightfully (terribly?) warm in California these days. My wife and I drove about 20 minutes from our home and bounced around the grassy, spring air at Bridgeport and the South Yuba River State Park, stopping to photograph every wildflower and bumblebee that flew by. We read a Parks’ Guide brochure about the Maidu and Kneebone family and ate handfuls of almonds and carrots. We sat along the sunny side of the river and splashed our fingers against the cold and rushing current, watching the water burst against the river rocks. I got a little sunburnt. We made friends with other hiker’s dogs.

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It was a typical day on the Yuba. That is to say, it was so fucking beautiful that I stopped questioning the existence of God.

After hiking around and noticing the bees and the butterflies, we decided to go to the nursery and get a few new plants for our garden. We grabbed a cup of mediocre coffee on our way and then picked up some Thyme for ground cover and three Daphne bushes for the side of our house. (If you have smelled a beautiful, strong, lemony smell in your neighborhood recently, it is either citrus blossom or Daphne. Daphne is heavenly this time of year and so worth planting.) After the nursery, we went to the grocery store and bought rice, grass-fed ground beef, butter lettuce and a few bags of frozen berries. Since we weren’t going out for dinner, we decided to barbeque at home.

We spent the afternoon pulling weeds and planting flowers in our garden at home. We don’t have a weed whacker so we cut the small patch of grass with scissors. We have Tulips and Daffodils coming out of the ground but they haven’t yet bloomed and we wanted to add a little color.

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Our cats were quite happy to oblige our whim and spent the afternoon padding around the garden chasing little flying bugs. My wife added some Scotch Moss to her Bonsai pots. We put a radio station on a mix called, “classic love affair” and listened to Etta James and Lena Horne sing love songs. We both got bit by a few mosquitoes.

For dinner, my wife put together patties of ground beef mixed with ground pork, chopped fennel, seasoned salt, and oregano. We slow-cooked the meat on the grill and ate the patties wrapped in butter lettuce. It was simple but it was perfect. I didn’t burn the meat. Later, I even threw a chicken breast on the grill for lunches later this week.

Right now we are sitting on our porch. I’m writing this blog. My wife is posting pictures from today’s adventures on Instagram and reading the book I bought her yesterday

Earlier, she looked at me and said, “I love how we slowed down today. I wish we could do this every day.”

I honestly can’t remember a better Valentine’s Day. Today was nothing special. Except that it was everything special. We didn’t go out to dinner. We didn’t make a big production. We didn’t plan a complicated dinner. We just played it by ear. We stayed in town. We hung out at home. I’ve never been more in love. And it was perfect.

Children Are Not Animals

Our small community has created facebook groups where people can post announcements and observations pertaining to the community. People will post announcements about the opening of a new restaurant, local classes that are available, and, occasionally, pictures of lost pets. We even have a facebook group specifically for venting, where people can air their frustrations. Today, a community member posted the following vent:

“[It] seems like lately I have been reprimanded for my “free-range” parenting of my very precocious 3 year old daughter. At the park for running up to your dog, at the school picnic for pretending to drive the golf cart, etc. But I read TONS of posts everyday of lost dogs on peeps & other pages! No shaming or name calling or tear-inducing rude comments to these “parents” of the dogs. For the record, I have never lost a child while at Grocery Outlet, River or park & I don’t have a leash for mine. SOOO why am I the incompetent person being shamed when other folks loose their “family members” willy nilly everywhere with no comment on their faulty parenting skills? My children are watched, loved, fed, educated & cherished. Yes, I give them freedom to explore but if you took the time to noticed beyond your bias, I am always there watching, monitoring & educating my children.”

Let me clear something up: Children and animals are different. I am not going to reprimand my cat if it decides to climb a tree during a family dinner. That is, of course, because it’s a cat.

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Children are not animals. Being a responsible pet owner and being a responsible parent requires distinctly different skill sets. Pet owners aren’t supposed to raise pets to one day successfully leave home on their own. The whole point of parenting a child is that a parent will raise a prudent, thoughtful human being who will one day safely leave the home and become a productive member of society.

This is not to say that free-thinking, creative types aren’t productive. Society needs art and it needs artists. People need music. We need song and dance and creative expression. There are lots of ways to contribute in this world. I’m all for raising creative little humans. It is important to note, however, that creative people who are successful are also hardworking.

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Developmentally, children do not have the same sense of discipline or self-restraint that functioning adults have. Children need guidance and boundaries during their development so that they can mature in the right direction. Children also need guidance and boundaries in order to stay safe.

If a three-year-old child is running up to unfamiliar dogs or sitting in the driver seats of heavy machinery, the child is not safe. If a parent, in an attempt at “free range” parenting, is allowing a child to run up to dogs or sit in the driver’s seat of heavy machinery, that parent is putting their child in danger. It is not thoughtful child-raising. It is not an attempt at unleashing a child’s creativity. It is irresponsible parenting.

If a parent wants a child to have a successful life, even at creative endeavors, the best thing a parent can teach a child is discipline. The most accomplished writers, artists, and musicians all had one thing in common: they were all disciplined. A parent is not doing a child any favors by allowing a child the freedom to be an animal.

Our Shelter Baby, Our Shelter

Three years ago my partner and I adopted the sweetest kitty from Sammie’s Friends, a local community animal shelter that helps our County Animal Control agency with adoptions of stray and abandoned pets. Our cat was very timid and, honestly, it wasn’t love at first sight. He was an adult kitty, very fat, quite handsome, and very fluffy. We wanted an adult kitty but he was so shy and there just wasn’t much personality there. When we first met him, we liked him but we didn’t know if we loved him. We went searching for other kitties. We looked at a number of other shelters. At least a week passed. Maybe two. Maybe three. But there was this twinge in our heart for that fat, fluffy kitty at Sammie’s Friends. One day, when I had some time, I went back just to see. I took our fat, fluffy prospect out of the cage and started brushing him. He purred like a beefy motorcycle. It was almost embarrassing how loud he purred. I was sure that the receptionist in the next room could hear him. But I just kept on brushing him because I knew that he needed it.

Our fat and fluffy kitty.  We named him after Utah Phillips, a story-teller, folk-singer and homeless-rights activist.

Our fat and fluffy kitty. We named him after Utah Phillips, a story-teller, folk-singer and homeless-rights activist.

After about 45 minutes, I called my partner and I said, “Remember that Tabby from Sammie’s Friends?” “Yes.” “I’m bringing him home.” I packed him up and filled out the Sammie’s Friends paperwork. After all was said and done, the agent who processed my paperwork and payment thanked me profusely. And then she got emotional. Like really emotional. I could see tears welling up in her eyes. She explained that our cat had been there for a long, long time. It had been more than a few months. And they just didn’t know that he would ever get adopted. They just didn’t know…what would happen. She explained that they had only limited funding and that they tried to do that best they could for him, for all of their animals. She explained that they were short on volunteers and they didn’t have enough money to care for every eligible animal that came their way. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Our large, fluffy baby.

Utah, happy at home.

It has been three wonderful years since we adopted our kitty from Sammie’s Friends and he has brought joy to our lives every day. I can’t even imagine the alternative. Since his adoption, he has brought us so much happiness, laughter and so much love. He is a giant ball of fluff and full of over-loud purring. Since his adoption, we have given our time and our money to Sammie’s Friends whenever possible. I don’t doubt that there have been difficulties with Sammie’s Friends or Animal Save or any number of community organizations that serve animals here in Nevada County. But, let’s be very clear: The failure of a community animal shelter is not the failure of the shelter but, rather, the failure of the community.

Complaints: The Goat Epilogue

If you follow my blog then you know that we borrowed two adorable goats and had been keeping them illegally in the backyard, within the city limits of Grass Valley. I fell in love with the two goats from day one. “Nomad” and “Gypsy” were completely loved and completely spoiled from the day they arrived.

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They enjoyed our over-grown field and had plenty to eat. They especially loved eating the figs off our tree. I gave them fresh water every day. Our next-door neighbors enjoyed them and threw zucchini over the fence for them. Every day, when my partner got home from work, we would go out and feed the goats carrots and other organic vegetables. The goats got so used to it that they would bleat every time the car pulled into the driveway. They seemed to be as happy as we were.

***

We recently moved to our place in Grass Valley. We are new to the neighborhood. We moved into the bottom half of a converted Victorian house. We love the new place. We love our large yard. We love our patio. We love the big kitchen. The only thing we don’t love is the upstairs neighbors.

When we had decided to move, we knew that the hardest thing that we would have to give up were the amazing neighbors. At our old place, we never locked our front door and we usually left our car keys in the ignition. We had community barbeques, shared vegetables from the garden, and looked after each others’ pets. We loved and trusted our neighbors completely. They were always respectful, thoughtful and kind.

After moving, I wanted to make nice with our upstairs neighbors. I wanted to be sure to make a good impression since we’d be living in such close proximity. Just after moving in, I brought them a jar of apricot jam. The young woman who answered the door took the jar with a confused look on her face, as though she had never seen homemade jam before. She thanked me the same way a person might thank a Jehovah Witness for a religious pamphlet.

A few days later, they had a party. We could hear every beat of their stereo and every step of each foot on the floor above us. My partner and I just shrugged it off and figured that it must have been someone’s birthday.

Later in the week, when I was pulling weeds in the yard, I saw the neighbors and said hi. I didn’t mention the party. We made a bit of small talk and went on with the day. Our interaction was cordial and friendly.

Not long after, they had another party. It was a Wednesday night and the party started after midnight. So, technically, it was a Thursday morning. I awoke to bass thumping and what sounded like elephants running across the floor above us. I pulled on my robe and walked around the house and up to the front porch.

The windows were open and I could hear every word of their conversation as though I were inside the house. “Oh my God! I haven’t smoked a joint in, like, forever!” They were clearly drunk. There were about nine or ten people in the living room. I could hear my neighbor giggling amongst the crowd.

I knocked on the door and a young man I’ve never seen before answered.

“Hey,” I said, “the music is pretty loud. Do you think you could turn it down, especially the bass?”

He nodded and shut the door.

With the windows still wide open he yelled, “Brianna! The Lesbian neighbors want you to turn down the music!”

Brianna, my neighbor, yelled back, “Fuck that!” But the music was turned down.

I went back downstairs and explained to my partner what had just happened. She asked, “How does he know that we’re Lesbians and how is the adjective appropriate in that context?”

I hadn’t really thought about it. I was too tired and was glad that they had turned the music down. In that moment, I was a sleepy human before I was a Lesbian. We could raise social consciousness after a good night sleep and some coffee.

But a few minutes later, they turned the music back up.

I again put on my robe, walked outside and knocked on their front door. The windows were still open and I could still hear every word. Brianna said something about “that bitch” at the door again. There were a few more exchanges amongst the crowd and someone locked the door.

I walked back in my house and wrote an email to my landlord. I thought about calling but it would have been our first contact since we signed our lease. It wasn’t their fault the upstairs neighbors were rude. We could talk about it in the morning.

When I got up the next day, the landlord and his wife had already written me back. They went over and talked to our neighbors after they saw my email. It was probably after 2am.

Our landlords are a mixed-race couple. He’s white and she’s black. They’ve had their fair share of adversity. When they saw my email, they decided to address the problem immediately. They explained to me later that they really felt the reaction from our neighbors was beyond inappropriate.

***

When we decided to get the goats, we talked to every neighbor except the ones upstairs. They had no courtesy for us. Our days of cordial conversation were brief and over.

My partner and I looked forward to the possibility of goats. We talked to the people behind us and on either side of us. I gave every one of them my phone number just in case the goats became a bother. This is how I met Sharron.

Sharron is “the one with the beautiful garden.” That’s what every other neighbor calls her. And for good reason. Her place is landscaped beautifully. She works at a local nursery. She has amazing trees and flowers, a huge vegetable garden, and a wonderful design for her whole yard. I was sure that she would have some hesitation when we told her about the goats.

When Sharron answered her door, I gave her my best smile and my sweetest girl-scout speech about goats. When I went to hand her my card, she invited me into her hallway and shut the door behind me. I braced myself for her objection to the goats.

Sharron frowned and then asked, “Hilary, what are we going to do about our neighbors?” She nodded her head towards my house.

We both sighed and began to exchange our stories. She had lived next door a lot longer then I had lived downstairs and apparently their behavior had been going on for a while. She explained that she had been calling our landlords and had been leaving them messages.

***

After the goats came to live with us, I started talking to the neighbors a lot. I wanted to make sure the goats weren’t bothering anyone.

I would knock on doors to check in and I would find myself in different living rooms having conversations. From these conversations, I learned that Sharron wasn’t the only one who took issue with our upstairs neighbors. The entire neighborhood was fed up.

***

Nomad and Gypsy had been living in our back yard for about three weeks when we got a call from our landlords. I never told them about the goats. I figured that the goats would clear the brush and leave before they were noticed. “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

 goat

My partner and I were set in our routine with the goats. I would go out in the morning and scratch them behind their horns. We would give them carrots in the afternoons. We changed their water. I checked every day to make sure the field still had fodder. There was still about a week’s worth of brush to clear.

After animal control had stopped by, it was hard to calm my nerves about “getting caught.” I worried that someone would harass us and make us send the goats home. When I saw “one new voice message” on my phone, I immediately got nervous. I went out to the field and gave the goats beet greens, chard and extra carrots before I checked my voice mail.

The message had nothing to do with the goats. It was our landlords letting us know that, after several complaints, they had decided to get rid of the neighbors upstairs.

***

Over Labor Day weekend, it poured rain unexpectedly. We awoke slowly on Sunday morning to the distantly familiar sound of rain on the sidewalk. After a long, hot summer, it took a minute for me to register what was happening. When I heard the goats crying outside, I sprang out of bed.

I threw on clothes and ran outside. Gypsy and Nomad were leaning against our shed trying to stay dry. They looked at me with complete dismay and kept up their maahing. There was no shelter in our field.

About two years ago, my partner and I took a class on caring for goats and sheep. The teacher stressed the importance of keeping goats dry in inclement weather. Goats and sheep are easily compromised from exposure and can become sick very quickly if they become wet and cold.

I went inside and called their owner. He said he was about to call us and that he would leave to come to get the goats in a few minutes.

I hung up the phone and went to the fridge. I pulled out four carrots and went into the pouring rain to give Gypsy and Nomad their last carrots. They looked at me but stayed against the shed trying to stay dry. I thanked them for their help and their company. They went home a few minutes later. I was sad to see them go.

***

About a week after Gypsy and Nomad departed, I saw my neighbor Sharron on a walk. We were both hiking a nearby trail. She stopped me as we passed each other.

She said, “I guess you heard that the upper unit is being evicted.”

“Yeah.” I replied. “There were too many complaints.”

My neighbor and I stood there awkwardly for a minute trying to figure out how to be graceful and not say awful things about the upstairs neighbors.

She smiled and then said, “It’s too bad the goats couldn’t have moved in. They would have been better tenants.”

 

 

 

 

Goat Chicken

I am harboring two illegal goats. The goats themselves aren’t illegal but where they are currently being kept, in my backyard, is illegal. Animal control stopped by our next-door neighbors’ house yesterday and picked up a raccoon that they had trapped. I had spent the night before in my backyard with the goats because the freeway noise unsettled our goat guests on their first night away from home. I snuggled in my sleeping bag out in my backyard, under the stars and with the goats. They finally fell asleep near the fence, spooning each other. I could hear the disgruntled chortle of the trapped raccoon next door until 4am, when I finally grabbed my sleeping bag and retired to my house.

goats2

The goats are a Nigerian/Toggenburg cross. Their names are Gypsy and Nomad. They are brother and sister and were born together in the same kidding. They are bonded, calm, friendly and adorable. Their current owners took them in after a nearby herder needed to thin a herd. Their current owners fell in love and adopted them After knowing the goats for just a couple days, I can understand the sentiment.

The goats spend most of the year grazing a vineyard at home on the other side of the county. When the grapes come in, the goats are moved in with the chickens. This year, they quickly ran out of fodder. The owner wanted their goats to have something to munch on and posted an ad to a local list serve. I felt like we were a perfect fit.

The owner came by and looked at our fenced-in field. We have grasses, blackberries, two cherry trees, a mature fig and a walnut tree. It’s mostly over grown and we both agreed that it would be a perfect vacation for the goats. They would have the greenery they craved and I would have a perfect solution to the brush.

The owner transported the goats in a large dog crate on the back of a pick up. They were nervous at first but I gave them each a carrot to ensure my status as their friend. They were timid on the first day, worried on their first night but felt comfortable and happy when the sun rose after there first twenty-four hours. Everything was going fabulously.

At least, the goats and I thought so.

While picking up the raccoon next door, an animal control officer saw the goats in my yard and came over to thump on my door. Even from the desk in my bedroom, I somehow knew that it was law enforcement out front. They all use the same thump. There must be a special training for mastering a knock. It probably takes months to hone such a skill; it is probably a part of a physical fitness test.

As I approached the door, I could see a man in a black outfit with too many pockets and belt loops. Knowing that I don’t have a record or any unpaid parking tickets, I opened the door and smiled.

“Are those your goats?” The tone transported me directly to the principal’s office. I did a quick mental inventory and was relieved that our cats are up-to-date on their shots.

I looked past the officer into the field down the hill. “Actually no.” I said. “They aren’t my goats. I’m borrowing them for brush clearing.” I smiled sweetly.

“Goats aren’t allowed within the city limits.” He responded flatly. He was a young man, fit and handsome. He was so serious that I almost laughed. We had recently moved from a more rural part of Nevada County but calling Grass Valley a “city” was stretching the imagination. Before moving to Nevada County, I had lived in Sacramento. Half a million people in one place is a city. Twelve thousand people where the tallest building is four-stories high is not a city.

I tried to reason about the goats, “Not even for brushing clearing?”

“Goats aren’t allowed within the city limits.” He repeated.

I stared into the distance and furrowed my brow. I looked beyond our small field, onto the adjacent road. I heard myself say, “I’m so surprised. I had no idea.” I was trying to make sense of how something so ridiculous could become law.

I’m not keeping the goats. They are my honored guests and they are performing an essential service. Our “backyard” is really a fenced-in field across our driveway and down a hill. It doesn’t make sense to keep weed whacking and letting the dried plants and duff build. We live in the foothills, an area that’s very much at risk for fire. Our little field is backed-up against the highway. A single cigarette out a car window could start a grass fire and travel quickly. I thought the goats were a brilliant idea. I thought I was being a conscious citizen.

I saw the animal control officer fold his arms while standing on my door mat. I asked, “Did someone complain?” Before the goats came to visit, I had talked to nearly every single neighbor within braying distance. The field had gone unkempt for years. The neighbors were thrilled. They all had my phone number and promised open communication if there were any problems or complaints.

The officer explained that no one had complained; he had heard the goats when he was picking up the raccoon. He finished with, “I don’t make the laws. I just enforce them.” I managed not to roll my eyes at the cliché.

I thanked him. I said, “The owner lives nearby. I’ll give him him a call. He’ll come get the goats.” I took a breath and added. “I’m really sorry. I just didn’t know.”

The animal officer thanked me and left.

I haven’t called the owner. I haven’t made a move.

I’m playing goat-chicken.

I’m not entirely sure how the enforcement of animal-ordinance regulations unfold. I assume that they usually begin with a complaint. I assume that someone who is upset with the presence of an animal complains before the ball gets rolling. Someone has to call before paperwork is filed.

I am also assuming that Animal Control is probably facing what every other first-responder organization in this nation is facing: under-paid, under-staffed shifts with nearly no budget and no central office. Animal control is probably doing what most police officers are doing: responding to the most prominent, pressing problems.

If no one complains, is there really a problem?

goats

I’m not sure what will happen to the goats. If there were a real problem, if someone were to complain, if I were cited, I could just have them picked up. Their owner loves them and I know that we will both ensure their health and safety. If I were cited, they would just return to their chicken coop outside of the city limits.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the officer might come back and take the goats.

I’m just baffled that it might come to that.

Dung Hits The Fan in Nevada County

Protests, petitions, and strategy meetings are about to run amok in Nevada County, California. The people are furious. Letters are being written. Signs are being made. Pickets are planned. It is going to get ugly.

Nevada County is a rural county located in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. It boarders the Tahoe National Forest and has a steeped history with the California Gold Rush. There are beautiful views, blue rivers, state parks, and small farms. As of the last US Census, the county was above the national average for completed education with a population that earns about the national median income. It has one of the highest literacy rates in the state and has one of the highest national per capita rates of non-profit organizations. The local folks take pride in their small-town parades, their local firefighters, their organic produce and an annual soap-box derby held in tiny Nevada City, the County Seat. Nevada County has Mid-Western manners, California politics and mountain terrain all in one place.

So what are the people protesting? Logging? Water rights? The reopening of a gold mine? New regulations on medical marijuana? Well sure. All of those things. And all the time. But the issue that has really gotten people off their couches, united, and onto the picket line is an altogether new issue for Nevada County: elephants.

elephant

This year’s Nevada County Fair theme is “Under the Big Top.” The event will take place August 7th-11th of this year. It will include the usual things like carnival rides, jam judging and livestock shows. But, as of right now, there are also plans for elephant rides.

So, what is the problem with elephant rides? What could be a better way to entertain a population with as many book clubs as there are bars? Elephant rides, right? Wrong.

The Board of the Nevada County Fair has contracted with Have Trunk, Will Travel, a company that transports and provides elephants for entertainment purposes. Have Trunk, Will Travel is being watched by a number of state and national animal rights organizations including Animal Defenders International, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).1

Have Trunk, Will Travel is no stranger to protests. The public protested the company’s treatment of “entertainment elephants” at the San Diego County Fair2. The Orange County Fair canceled their contract with Have Trunk, Will Travel for humanitarian reasons and for public safety.3

The Have Trunk, Will Travel web site4 claims they are “a family of people that truly cares about the well being of elephants.” See for yourself: the following clip contains nine minutes of video edited from 10 hours of surveillance footage taken by Animal Defenders International, documenting egregious abuse by Have Trunk, Will Travel:

 

Have Trunk Will Travel elephant abuse – YouTube

 

Have Trunk, Will Travel is supported by an organization called the Animal Welfare Council. If you do any remedial research on the organization, you will find that the Animal Welfare Council is the fancy name for a lobbying organization for rodeos and affiliated industries in animal commerce and agriculture. The Animal Welfare Council is an organization that has nothing to do with animal welfare and they are not a reputable source for the treatment of animals.

What is baffling to the people of Nevada County is that, even after these issues have surfaced, the Nevada County Fair Board remains unmoved. Following a protest and meeting on the controversy, the Fair Board stayed the course and made no change to their plans.

In an article written for The Nevada County Union, the county’s local newspaper, journalist Liz Kellar notes, “Nearly 40 people spoke at a hearing Thursday [June 20th] that stretched for almost two hours on whether the Nevada County Fair should allow elephant rides at the fairgrounds.But in the end, less than a minute of silence ended with none of the fair board members making a motion to cancel the contract with Have Trunk, Will Travel.” Many, many community members spoke intelligently and succinctly against having elephants at the fair but the concerns fell on deaf ears.

Since the town meeting, several Facebook groups have formed and interest on this issue has grown exponentially—both locally and internationally. Organizers of the protests have been contacted by heads of organizations pledging their presence and support.

Nevada County, a small place that should be on the map for its history, its theater, its music and its terrain is about to become yet another site of a County Fair providing institutionalized animal cruelty in the name of public entertainment, for a public that doesn’t want it.

 

1 http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/have-trunk-will-travel-abuses-elephants.aspx

2 http://delmar-carmelvalley.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/san-diego-county-fair-approves-elephants-rides-throug244e50dfd1

3 http://www.ocregister.com/articles/fair-345893-elephant-board.html

4 http://www.havetrunkwilltravel.com/